Pennsylvania Voters Want Property Tax Reform; Legislators Ignore Them

Published August 1, 2004

While legislators were in Harrisburg debating property tax relief and the current year budget, which should have been passed by July 1, a new poll from Triad Strategies found Pennsylvanians want voter approval of property tax increases.

Eighty-six percent of respondents to the poll supported giving taxpayers greater control over future property tax increases. Only 9 percent favored leaving the current property tax powers of local school boards unchanged.

“This poll confirms what policymakers have known for years,” said Matthew J. Brouillette, president of the Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation. “Pennsylvanians want the same protections that citizens in an overwhelming majority of other states have. They want the power to approve or veto future school property tax increases.”

The Triad Strategies poll, conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research, found that most Pennsylvanians strongly favor giving homeowners some protections against the taxing authority of school boards. Voters support measures even more restrictive than those being discussed in the General Assembly.

According to the poll, more than 62 percent of respondents want the General Assembly to “require the approval of voters for any future property tax increase.” Most proposals under consideration in Harrisburg would allow for tax increases up to a certain level (such as the increase in the statewide average weekly wage) without voter approval.

“Granting such taxation leeway virtually guarantees that school boards will increase taxes every year up to the limit,” said Brouillette. “The only way to protect homeowners from being taxed out of their homes is by subjecting any and all tax increases to a vote of the people who will be required to pay the district’s higher bills.”

Government Diluting Voters’ Power

Governor Ed Rendell (D) and some members of the General Assembly want to limit the spending measures taxpayers will be able to control at the ballot box. Brouillette said that granting any exemptions to school boards or allowing them to increase any taxes without voter approval will fail to provide taxpayers with the protections they need and clearly want.

“The overwhelming support of citizens for substantive control over future school property tax increases should cause policymakers to refrain from trying to water down or restrict the voting power of taxpayers,” said Brouillette. “It is time policymakers put the people’s interests first–instead of the special interests–by giving taxpayers real protections against school boards willing to destroy the American Dream of homeownership.”

Grant R. Gulibon in senior policy analyst at The Commonwealth Foundation, a public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His email address is [email protected].

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